Concordia skipper claims he may have saved lives

2014-12-03 18:20

(AFP)

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Rome - Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino has claimed on Wednesday that his decision to delay evacuation of the stricken cruise ship may actually have saved lives in the 2012 disaster.

In a second day of testimony at his manslaughter trial, Schettino, aged 54, was quizzed by prosecutor Alessandro Leopizzi as to why he did not sound the alarm immediately after he hit rocks off the Italian island of Giglio, triggering a disaster in which 32 people died.

The captain, who is also charged with causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship, replied that such a move would have led to a dangerous panic among the 4 229 people on board.

"I wanted to get the ship as close to the island as possible. The way it was shaking, had I sounded the [nautical signal for abandon ship] seven long whistles and one short one, people would have thrown themselves into the water," Schettino said.

'Completely overwhelmed'

The Concordia hit the rocks at 21:45 and the order to abandon ship was not issued until over an hour later, at 22:54, by which time the boat had drifted back towards the island, where it eventually came to rest on the sea bed, half-submerged in about 20m of water.

The prosecution team are seeking to portray Schettino as a man who was completely overwhelmed by events and dithered dangerously as the boat drifted.

But the experienced merchant commander insisted he was fully in control. He told the court he was sure the boat was not about to immediately sink and that he thought the prevailing wind would lead to it drifting from deep water to a shallower position nearer the island, where an evacuation, if required, would be easier and safer.

Damage limited?

"I delayed sounding the alarm knowing exactly how much manoeuvre time the ship had. I knew the Concordia well, I wanted to get her closer to the island and then sound the alarm," he continued.

"By then the damage was done. [Through my actions] it was contained."

Schettino was then pressed to explain why he thought he could influence a drifting 115 000-tonne ship with all its engines out of action, and why a series of reassuring announcements were made to the terrified passengers.

"I did that to calm people down, I was afraid of panic," he replied.

He also denied that he had not called in for tow boats to help stabilise the ship because of concern over the financial implications of seeking salvage.

"I did not put the boat before human lives," he said. "The cost I would have thought about afterwards."

Schettino began giving evidence on Monday in his first appearance in the dock since his trial opened in the Tuscan town of Grosseto in July 2013.

Denied responsibility

On Monday he denied being responsible for steering the giant cruise ship recklessly close to the island, saying he believed it was set on a route that would take it near the rocky coastline but not so close as to run any risk.

Schettino said he only resumed control of the boat's direction 15 minutes before it hit the rocks and has effectively blamed his subordinates on the bridge for plotting the course that led to disaster.

Prosecutors revealed for the first time on Monday that they intend to seek a 20-year prison sentence for the career mariner who has been described as "Captain Coward" because of his decision to leave the ship himself half an hour after the alarm was sounded and with hundreds of passengers and crew still on board.

He has yet to be interrogated on that aspect of the fateful night's events.

A key element of Schettino's defence will be his assertion that the main reason for the boat sinking, and therefore the deaths, was its total loss of power due to the failure of back-up generators, which he cannot be held responsible for.

Read more on:    italy  |  cruise liner disaster

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